Gender and Force in the Media

"Sexism is not a 'women's issue'": Interview with Anne Wizorek. 

Anne Wizorek is a consultant for digital strategies and online communication, blogger and feminist. She is one of the initiators of the Twitter-campaign "#aufschrei" and provided an important contribution to the German debate on sexism. She regularly writes on her blog Kleinerdrei and is an avid tweeter.

1How did #aufschrei get started?

The beginning of #aufschrei has almost become a legend by now. It always sounds as though we read the article about Rainer Brüderle and then sat down and started sharing our stories because of it. Of course that is completely bogus. What happened on Twitter had absolutely nothing to do with that article - those two things just happened to take place at the same time.

This misunderstanding about how #aufschrei started also shows what was so problematic about that debate in the beginning - the fact that a lot of people concentrated on the Brüderle-story and did not understand that it was just one small puzzle piece in the big construct of everyday sexism.

2So, you feel that the topic was not taken seriously enough? Or to put it differently, do you think that #aufschrei would have received as much attention had it not coincided with the story on Rainer Brüderle? (More information on the background of #aufschrei can be found here.)

I don't know about that. Of course, it was a catalyst for us and got us immediate media attention outside of Twitter. But I can't say whether we would have gone completely unnoticed otherwise. In the end, it also worked so well because so many were brave and ready to share their stories. That shows that we struck a nerve.

3What is your impression of the debate now, looking back on it? Where are we at now in relation to the original aim?

I am of two minds on this. In some ways, there is now a noticeable awarness about the topic and people understand that we need to be in an ongoing dialogue on this. But through the debate a lot of people also showed their real face. This is a topic where you notice quickly what makes someone tick. If you take a look around at how the media handled the topic, there were a lot of things I'd rather not have to read again. For example all of the essentialist arguments - that men are hormone-driven and can't control their behavior, or that women would rather play victim than fight back.

Another example was the reaction to our open letter to the president, Joachim Gauck. Many people accused us of only having written the letter to keep the debate active at all costs. There was also a tendency to read the letter as an attack, when we clearly signalled our intent to have a dialogue. The backlash to feminism was easy ot see in the reactions - we were just the perpetually unhappy, angry women who always have something to whine about.

4One of the problematic issues was also how the debate was framed in the media. There was a marked tendency to generalize the issue. I am thinking here of your appearance on (the German talkshow) SternTV, where the host insisted on persenting sexual harrassment als clumsy flirtations. Such generalizations preclude serious conversations about systemic oppression and abuse of positions of power.

Yes, it was extremely difficult to make it plain that we were not, in fact, talking about misunderstandings. Sexism is about clear-cut cases of harrassment, where it is clear that it is not wanted - also for the person who is doing the harrassing. There are studies that show that both men and women know exactly which kind of behavior is not okay.

With these attempts at trivializing the issue it was easily noticeable that the people in question did not want to understand. It appears that senior editors are still predominantly male. I saw this especially in the fact that almost all interviews I did were with female journalists, there were almost no male journalists interested in talking about this. This also served to relegate the topic to a "women's issue". I rarely felt that people understood that this is a human right's issue, something that concerns an entire society. That is unfortunate. Instead of talking about the core of the problem, we were often stuck explaining basic concepts - that we are not talking about flirtation here, but about harrassment and abuse and systems of oppression that do not just target white, heterosexual women. I always tried to point out the ways in which transphobia, heterosexism and racism play into this, but that was often the first thing that was ignored.

5What is your perception of the public response? Did they really grasp the core of the problem?

I am of two minds on this, as well. I received many messages that gave me a good overview of people's reactions. Aside from the many women who write, I also heard from a lot of men who were grateful for the campaign, since it also exposes and criticizes certain types of masculinity. From men who understand now what feminism is all about. #aufschrei was an eye-opener for many of them, and now they get how widespread sexism is. But of course there were also those men who felt the need to explain to me that we should not equate sexism with sexualized violence. Many just did not see the connection - of course those terms do not mean the same thing, but they need to be discussed side by side because they are interrelated. And naturally, there was unfortunately also veritable hate-mail, from men as well as from women.